Review: Sugar and Spice

On a weekend self care escape in Builth Wells, celebrating another mum friend’s birthday, we had found Sugar and Spice; by daytime a cafe, some evenings a bistro, in the nearby town of Llandridnod Wells. We messaged ahead of our trip to find out if the evening bistro would be running whilst we were there, it was, and happened to be running on the night of our arrival into Builth. Understanding we had a bit of a drive to get there, they were very flexible with our arrival time (allowing us a 30 minute arrival time slot rather than a arrive at this time type thing).

It was very easy to find the building, but due to an event in the town, parking wasn’t available immediately outside of the location. However a 2 minute walk away there is a car park, and all the surrounding streets have on street parking available. We managed to get a space within minutes of being in town centre and walked across to the bistro.

First impressions were that it looked like a small rustic cafe, which I suppose is how it should look, given that by day it functions as a cafe, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. There was a large table booking and a couple sat separately, We were given the choice of anywhere else and chose to sit in the little cove by the window. It was cosy, but not in a cramped way by any means, it was cute and, paired with the low sounds of Bob Marley, gave the air of a relaxed and chilled intimate dining room. It was the perfect atmosphere to start off our weekend of relaxation.

Jess was so attentive and really tailored our experience. We built up such a great rapport with her with such minimal effort; she was interested in what we had to say, and keen to ensure our experience was nothing short of first class. Nothing was too much trouble, not even our indecisive (and overtired) brains. From the off she was on top of what we liked/disliked and guided us through what was best to choose for us and how she could make it different to meet our needs/preferences etc. So from the outset we knew we were getting our needs met. She even giggled with us when we mentioned we forgot our wine (it’s a bring your own and pay corkage kind of deal) so we ended up buying cordials instead.

The food. I mean. Where do I start? The menu and deal I suppose. The menu was 2 courses for £20, 3 for £25, and for an evening meal I don’t really consider that bad prices at all. Starter was not a hard choice for me at all. I saw the word “avocado” and I was sold. The dish was their take on a caprese salad; caprese for those who aren’t aware is a tri colour Italian salad normally consistent of mozzarella, tomato and basil seasoned with olive oil and salt, making up the colours of the Italian flag. However, instead of the basil representing the green in this salad, there was an avocado crush which was served on a bed of mozzarella topped with oven roasted on the vine tomatoes and some mixed leaves and bread on the side. It was delicious, the flavours were amazing. I said it then, so I will repeat it now… it took every ounce of energy I had to not lick the plate clean (although I was told no one would judge if I did hehe).

For main course there was some debate for the birthday girl, but for me there was none; I tend to go with the vegetarian or vegan dish on most menus, as meat and dairy affect my intolerance and stomach issues, plus they are usually exceedingly tasty. So I went with the Romano Pepper and birthday girl (who loves fish) went with the Catch of the Day which was sea bass. We both absolutely loved it. I can’t personally comment on the fish dish (I wouldn’t even try any as I hate dish) but I have to admit that it looked appealing. But the romano pepper. Wow. Just. Wow! It was bursting with flavour. It felt, along with the relaxed-go-happy atmosphere, like I was back in Santorini for a moment. It was a party in my mouth and it made my soul dance. Served with the cous cous, beans and tenderstem broccoli… I was in heaven. It’s like I had gone into a kitchen and made the choices myself (and I am quite particular about what I like to go together). I couldn’t offer advice on room for improvement to be honest because it was my kind of perfect.

Then it came time for pudding. The food, up to this point, had been so amazing. The menu choices for pudding were all so tempting. How were we supposed to choose? We expressed this and asked for help. Jess made the solution simple… it was to the effect of “don’t choose, I will make you a sharer board with a bit of everything”. How utterly perfect?

To break it down:
Home made honey ice cream – as someone who hates honey, for me to want to keep eating more than a small taster spoonful is amazing, but I did. BECAUSE IT WAS AMAZING!
Chocolate brownies – vegan and gluten free yet tasted so moist and so much like best chewy dairy brownies I’ve tasted that it was impossible to tell. They were divine.
Eton Mess – I mean. It’s meringue, strawberries and cream. What’s not to like? It was amazing. The meringue was just the perfect amount of crisp and chewy.
Lemon cake with orange curacao cream – so moist and flavoursome. I couldn’t stop eating it even when I was waaaaaaay past full.

I have no constructive criticism for them, except I could moan that they make me want to get super fat, but actually that says more about my complete lack of self control than their food. It was to die for. I would happily go back a million times over.

And to top it off, rapport and conversation that had built up through the evening led to the discover that they own a grocers just next door, La Vida Verde: promoting zero waste, buying local and plastic use reduction. The kind of ethics I love to hear about (we may have had a sneaky tour at the end of our meal). Thank you. We will be back.

Review: The Bush Inn

We were excited to go to The Bush Inn, a place that always has a picnic bench afternoon tea; such a fun concept must be a really fun place. And the fact that it’s so popular must mean that they are doing something well right? Well… in my opinion, not really. I mean. It looks the part, and the concept is fun and they change the table to match the season. But, for me, that’s where it ends.

I was wary after the phone call to book to be honest. I called and asked if they had availability for the date I was interested in, I was asked if I wanted afternoon or evening, I said afternoon would be preferable and was met with “well we only have availability at 5:45pm, so you have to come in the evening” I was a bit taken aback, and didn’t instantly respond. And was met with an exacerbated, “hello!”, but I swallowed what I felt was a complete lack of customer service and told them that we were coming for someone’s 30th birthday and continued with the booking none the less.

Upon arrival it was clear that the whole restaurant was booked out for these benches all night. And it all felt very crammed and very rushed. No sooner had we sat down, someone was out to check if we had any dietary needs and then bam! It was on the table. The atmosphere didn’t feel relaxed, it felt packed and crammed and like the night was all about cramming as many in for as maximum profit as possible.

This also came across in the food. We had the valentines bench which consisted of:
Savoury:
Fries – slightly on the dry side
Chicken Lollipop with sweet chilli sauce – again, slightly on the dry side as if it had been sat out under a heat lamp
Aberdeen Angus slider burger – the best thing on the picnic bench. Succulent and juicy, very tasty.
Mini Lasagne – it seemed as if they had been mass prepared and frozen (I could be wrong) but the moment I put my fork in it, it collapsed and it was very watery. I have only experienced this with frozen lasagne hence my conclusion but yes. It wasn’t very good.
Sweet:
Valentines Cheesecake in a shot glass – was quite bland. Not a great deal of flavour. Was a nice texture though.
Banoffee Pie in a shot glass – much like the cheesecake, very little flavour
Rolo Rocky Road – to be honest – I didn’t get around to eating this so I can’t comment
Belgian Brownie cake pop – fairly dry, but had a good flavour
Jammy Dodger Blondie – very bland, exceedingly stodgy (in a dry kind of way).
Mini bottle of pink lemonade – tasted very yummy.
Mini raspberry mojito – had a nice flavour, but I don’t think it could be classed as a mojito; it did have a sprig of mint in, but I couldn’t taste mint in the drink, only raspberry, and considering mint is an essential part of a mojito…

They didn’t skimp on quantity but in short, it felt like it was very much about the gimmick of the bench, that it was catered rather than freshly prepared, with mass production and low cost playing a higher priority that maximum quality and taste on the output and like we had to rush rather than relax and enjoy.

Also, given that, at the time of booking I made it clear that it was a 30th birthday, it was a little upsetting to see everyone around us have candles in their cakes, and none arrive to the birthday girl on our table. At £18 per person, I would say it’s over-priced. That you are paying purely for the gimmick. Definitely not great value for money. I would be hesitant to return.

Review: Wye Cottage – Penrheol Self Catering Barn Conversions

I booked to go here with another mum friend for a quiet weekend escape to celebrate a birthday (see here). We wanted a quiet place to relax, preferably without children, not too far from home with the luxury of an on site or nearby spa or a private hot tub. From the descriptions we could see (and the reviews) Wye Cottage at Penrheol seemed just the ticket. In a rural location just outside of the town of Builth Wells, complete with epic views of the countryside and hot tub it was perfect.

We had booked through Airbnb (as that’s where we found it) which was straightforward enough. Claire sent us a message with information on how to find the property, where to find the key on arrival etc. Claire’s instructions were very clear and (along with the post code being set in the Sat Nav) the property was very easy to find. On arrival, Claire came out and greeted us, gave us a quick tour, showed us how to use the hot tub and wished us well.

The accommodation was well laid out and equipped and very comfortable. Knowing it was 2 mums coming for a break, they had set the one twin up as a king room with the beds pushed together and an insert between the beds. All rooms were en suite accessible wet rooms (with seats and disability supports etc.) The spaces within the accommodation were bright and airy with modern decoration that tastefully incorporated the character features. A nice addition was the woodburner (complete with a basket of logs and some fire lighting equipment). It helped with the requirement to relax (I do love watching flames).

Some sachets of shower gel were available for use, there were plenty of towels and toilet rolls and there were extra blankets available. Some extra nice touches were the drawer full of DVDs and CDs below the TV, and the cupboard full of board games and books. In the kitchen, along with the house and hot tub rules (nothing too outrageous, just really respecting the property and neighbours), we found that we had been left freshly laid eggs, a bottle of soft drink and home made welsh cakes.

Outdoors, at the rear of the property, were amazing country views, a large garden with patio and hot tub complete patio furniture and a bbq and fire pit. At the bottom of the garden, behind some hedging is a gate leading to the children’s play area.

Wye Cottage was a brilliant place to stay. I wouldn’t hesitate to return here again, whether as a family, or as a grown up couple/group. Would highly recommend this place to other people. It is by no means a party cottage, but is most definitely a rural haven.

Review: Kidz Barn

I won’t sit and debate my conflict of soft play here (you know that ugh! it’s useful, but ugh! headache…). Instead looking at soft play as a positive developmental tool I will review our experience of this particular establishment.

Initially, it was difficult to work out whether there’d be parking, as the establishment is down a little road past a car park for the football ground, which led to a residents only car park, and eventually a tiny car park for the soft play (enough for about 6 cars). However, as it was midweek term time we didn’t have a trouble with that.

On arrival we were greeted with a smile and the customer service was great; having established I wanted to pay by card and buy food too I was able to open a tab, instead of paying in small increments, and pay at the time we were preparing to leave. As someone who rarely carries cash (I spend and lose money waaaay too easily), this was perfect.

The cafe area and the soft play area appeared to be well cleaned and thoughtfully laid out. The staff were never idle, they were always busy serving, prepping or cleaning. All too often I find that staff in these places are busy gossiping whenever you need them. I don’t mind people being busy and not immediately available to me if they are working – I am someone with patience and respect, but it is a gripe of mine when the people are stood around gossiping. So bonus points always go to those soft plays where I am never subjected to it (and we’ve been a couple of times now so… can say this with some certainty).

The food wasn’t too bad either, the usual offenders and food stuffs generally associated with soft play. We were naughty and opted for chips with our meals… but hey! It was nice, wouldn’t shout from the rooftops and call it the most amazing food ever, but it definitely wasn’t bad! We would definitely order again.

Logan says “It’s fantastic”

Caitlin says “I loooooooooooove it”

Review: Avatar Bowling/Reel Cinema Kidderminster

Retrospective review… delayed due to Winter madness

Anyhow… back in October we found out that Avatar Bowling was opening in Kidderminster. So at the end of October we went to see what it was like (combined with a trip to the neighbouring Reel Cinema. I should note that the two establishments are completely separate but they are reviewed together as they happened in the same day.

I’ll start with the cinema, I won’t review the film, just the establishment. The cinema was small – just 4 screens. If you go in thinking luxury, modern cinema you may be disappointed. If you go in thinking small, independent cinema you will likely have your expectations met, or exceeded. The foyer was street level, where the tickets could be purchased alongside a reasonable selection of snacks (and actually as far as cinemas go, they had some offers that meant the food was slightly less expensive, still at a premium but slightly lower than prices you’d find at say Vue/Cineworld/Odeon). There was a wheelchair lift up to the screens (all upstairs), with toilets and a little area for children’s parties. The screening rooms were intimate and surprisingly comfortable. For a family of 4 with some snacks it came to just shy of £35. The staff were friendly, accommodating and knowledgeable. Overall, it was a great experience and we’d do it again.

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With regards to Avatar Bowling. The children had never been bowling before (well to our knowledge). So we just payed for them to bowl as we had no idea how long they’d take, especially considering their mobility/motor issues and such. The pricing was reasonable, and we had initially planned that if they got on with the first game that we’d play as a family for a round after and have food there and some drinks. However, the constant eyes on, and the suspicious looks as they were playing (even down to just getting a frame for Caitlin to use to roll the ball down as even the light ones were too heavy for her) was off putting and frankly uncomfortable. So we left, never to return. Funnily enough, not many weeks later they banned children from the establishment.

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Cogs ticking behind the scenes… still! :D

Hi guys,

I am seemingly absent, but I promise I am not. Things, once again, are rather complicated here. I mean, we had our normal winter chaos and anxiety and January is supposed to be our recovery time. But it has been relentless, I am unsure of what’s been disclosed previously, but fear I may once again not post if I don’t just write this now…. so this is a bit of what 2019 has had in store for us so far:

  • Renovation works (flooring, plumbing -repairs and additions – and landscaping)
  • Puppy seriously ill, suspected parvo but actually is likely he ate something he shouldn’t have. He is better now.
  • Caitlin (youngest child) getting rushed to A&E – Suspected meningitis – turns out it was 2 separate infections in her body causing a fever together and a bad reaction.
  • Our shower regurgitating toilet waste up through it (the person who sold this house had it as a doer upper… it appears they did the plumbing themselves with no understanding of gravity.
  • Bruce was involved in a minor traffic collision (new driver pulled out of junction, straight into the side of him – car written off she crashed into rear passenger door/wheel arch, he’s ok though and we have a new car
  • New car from previous point has stopped working (it’s under warranty and is in the garage being fixed, but it means we are down to one car, I am suffering with exhaustion and sciatica and having to either bit the bullet and carry a 87 year old in a toddler carrier, or push a wheelchair
  • A few family/friends are really suffering with health in some quite extreme ways at the moment: cancer, heart and lung problems, mobility issues that are causing serious disruption and upset

And that’s just a heavily summarised overview, with the more trivial things pulled out/overlooked. I have gotten myself way behind at uni (I was 8 weeks behind and have caught up to 4 weeks), but somehow managed to pull off some half decent essays and assignments (equivalent to 1st or 2:1).

But. And here’s the big but… As ever, I am determined to be on top of everything. I will get there. In the interim I am going to catch up with the blog reviews as I can (alongside my uni work of course). And then I will be on top of it all. The major stuff in the house will be mostly done and uni will break up for summer so. I will. I know I can. In the interim though, I have several drafts work in progress. Watch this space for more to follow.

The light never goes out…

… you know the one at the end of the tunnel. It’s still there, it’s just that the length of the pathway, the obstacles in my way and the stability of the road aren’t clear. And at the moment it feels very unstable and full of obstacles. Relentlessly so. I’m quite literally treading water with my energy, my body, my health. And I keep thinking “oooo, just gotta do x, y and z and then I can recover a little….” but then the list is scuppered by major dramas. Just to list a few to give an indication:

  • Major roof leak (on one section of the single-storey part of the house only)
  • Car drama – headlights stopped working, intermittently, couldn’t recreate scenario at the garage. Eventually got something sorted.
  • Logan’s sleep saga continues… although now we are back (begrudgingly) with Melatonin and this time we are actually seeing some more benefit than last time; it definitely hasn’t fixed the problem, but we are seeing more “good” nights (where there’s a more solid chunk of sleep).
  • Caitlin’s muscular issues have been fluctuating, and where we have had a more steady constant stream of physical activity, I am less able to predict what’s going to be too much (I am sure our super steep stairs do not help, some visitors actually get anxiety about coming down them).
  • Colds and Flu – I have SOOOOOOOOOOOO not been on top of our immunity routine. And although we have a very good diet, it just hasn’t been enough. Cue a series of colds, and what we think was the flu on the last batch.
  • Bank drama – 6 months after moving (5 months after no access to old house/address change) the bank decided to “accidentally” post some of our account details to an old address (I had been into the bank to change it personally as they wouldn’t do it over the phone/couldn’t online). So needless to say I am changing banks.
  • Therapy – each session seems to actually be leaving the kids feeling vulnerable afterwards and having an impact on behaviour for a week or two afterwards now. Which is good in some ways (it’s working, but it’s exhausting).
  • Uni – has started back up again, and I may have bitten off more than I can chew all things considered this year, but I’m the kind of person that makes things happen. I always have been.

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However, despite all the drama and exhaustion, we now have someone coming in to do the deeper clean of the bathroom, en suite and kitchen. And a volunteer from a wonderful charity called Home Start coming in to just give me a bit of human interaction once a week (and eventually we are hoping it’ll lead to respite for me, when the kids are able to trust her enough to listen to her whilst I am out of the room for long enough for me to just go read a bit, or soak a bit), and access to regular groups where the kids can just be themselves without me having to care.

AND on top of that, I actually got some me time. with a friend… a mini spa day (by mini I mean, no treatments just use of the facilities and a relax for a while). It was at the St Pierre Marriott Hotel and Country Club. I will not waste my time with a review – I will just say: we arrived to find staff talking about their desire to “get out of there” and travel and work cash in hand on the fly as they do, with little interest in us actually checking in/any queries. The facilities were tired and outdated. When we got in the jacuzzi, it was hard to relax for all the unregulated children running around screaming, and when they finally left I had a headache and couldn’t be bothered any longer. Got out to try and have lunch, and despite the bar being less than 25% seated, they told me food would be at least a 45 minute wait. Don’t even bother going. It wasn’t all to waste though, as I went by train so I got to enjoy listening to music on my MP3, whilst alternating between reading my Kindle and checking out the views!

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Regardless. I am here, plodding on, taking the obstacles as I come upon them. Some days life feels like it is moving forward. Some days it feels as if the weight of the world is against us (or rather me) and that I am fighting against it alone. But now it feels like we are balancing out a bit more, like the days moving forward are happening more. Still largely over shadowed by fighting and grief, but with a more constant presence of underlying peace and happiness.

 

Review: Seaquarium Weston-Super-Mare

As Granadad and Nanny were in Burnham-on-Sea having a holiday, we decided, it’s really not all that far and we haven’t seen them in a while so we should go visit them. The plan was for a beach day, but we chose to go down on a day when the weather was drab. Though for us that’d normally mean “yay waterproofs”, Nanny and Grandad were on holiday with Ariella’s step brother Jamie. Jamie is on the ASD spectrum and doesn’t do much outdoors, and definitely not much that involves rain.

After much searching around for a plan, Jamie agreed that he’d be happy to go to Weston-Super-Mare and visit the Seaquarium. Again my inner (ethical) conflict came to the surface, but still we went. And I will try and review this without letting that come to the surface.

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The Seaquarium was well thought out, utilising different angles of the same tank as viewing space in order to maximise the size of the main tank (with tunnel). The tanks all looked clean and in good order and there didn’t seem to be overcrowding in any of the tanks. There was a good variety of sea life on offer and the aquarium offered up lots of opportunity for learning, not just of the view-able sea life on offer, but also about ecological and environmental stability.

As the ticket is valid for re-entry all day, we went around a second time. But the second time we did the treasure trail that we didn’t know was on until we got inside the first time. It was quite good, clues related to the sections of the aquarium. Each section had a board for them to go to so they could stamp it with a punch. And at the end they had a pirate related prize.

Situated on a pier of its own on the sea front between the Grand Pier and the old Tropicana pool, it is in a prime location. There is nearby roadside parking which is quite expensive (if memory serves, £10 for the day), but the nearby shopping mall was slightly cheaper so we parked there, which was a reasonable walk. It was by no means a cheap attraction, but was on par with other attractions of its type (£9.50/adult and £7.50/child). Discounts offered for carers and also (we found out) to West Midlands Safari Park pass holders (as they are operated by the same group).

Please note, this is a review based on our personal experience and opinion. The Seaquarium didn’t know we were going to write this review. 

Review: National Trust The Firs (Elgar Birthplace Museum)

The property is situated just outside of Worcester about a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited on the same day (Brockhampton Estate). It is set just back off the road and is a relatively small property and has a relatively small car park and overflow.

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The entrance to the property itself is via the visitor centre where you can find a lot of information about Elgar, book your time slot to visit the cottage itself (they have to control the numbers in the cottage due to its size) and find out what’s happening on site that day. I shall not reproduce information about the property, details of it can be found here. I have to say, I really wasn’t expecting much out of this trip, but actually I was pleasantly surprise by how much was on offer, in terms of to see, learn and do.

 

 

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Like many other National Trust properties there are summer activities here for children. They had storytelling in the garden (free) and also puppet making in the foyer (£1.50/puppet). The lady, I forgot her name, running both of these on the day was lovely. Logan was really struggling with boundaries that day (as in restrictions on what he should/shouldn’t do and personal space), and she was very patient with him.

 

 

We also had quite some hunger after our little jaunt at… so I got me a pea soup and the children shared a cheese sandwich, between us we shared 2 slices of Victoria sponge and the children had a juice each whilst I had a Sicilian lemonade. The bill came to just over £21, 1 sandwich, 1 soup, 2 slices of cake and 3 drinks. I felt the prices for the drinks were on par with high end prices elsewhere, and the price of the soup/sandwich was reasonable. But the cake, at £3.25/slice; I was expecting more than just a dry sponge with a thin layer of jam. It really was quite stale.

However, was too tired to argue it and face the wrath of the children after the promise of cake. It was dry enough for me to need to go and get a glass of tap water, which is on offer in a dispenser. However, it was empty so I approached the counter to be met with an expression of displeasure and inconvenience. I had already paid for drinks, but nonetheless the feeling I got when I approached for tap water was very uncomfortable.

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It’s definitely worth a visit.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits. 

Review: National Trust Brockhampton Estate

The property is entered directly from the A44 between Bromyard and Worcester. About a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited the same day (The Elgar Birthplace Museum – The Firs). The long, high wall on the outer of the property gives an indication of a vast estate, but it doesn’t prepare you for what you encounter.

After driving a few minutes down a single track road, surrounded by open countryside and grazing sheep you get to a lay-by and a little hut where you are expected to pull over. A National Trust member of staff comes to greet you and ask what your plans are for the day (so they can give you directions). It’s here that we found out we weren’t actually “here” yet… the actual house and gardens are a further 1.5 miles drive through the estate down this single track. The beauty cannot be escaped though – even the children were making sounds of awe as we turned the corner downhill towards the Lower Brockhampton estate. And then again as the road became tree lined. And then cheers of excietment when they realised we were at the car park and the much anticipated end of journey was nigh.

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The medieval manor house (entered by a cute little gatehouse) takes you through much history and is very well presented and provides a lot of information. This is a house with no roped off areas, so you can really get up close to the displays and furnishings. And in one of the upstairs rooms there’s a chance for dress up; though the children didn’t actually dress up on this visit, the house is a bit dark which added an eerie feel, they didn’t want to stick around too long upstairs. With short films available in a room at the back taking you through how the house was opened, archaeology days and the like.

 

 

 

 

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There is a lot more information to be found on various signs around the gardens and also in the courtyard by the Granary shop and kiosk (which we didn’t use on our visit, as we didn’t have need to). You can find a lot of information about the history and uses of the estate and some of the history of the chapel, as well as some information about agriculture.

 

 

 

 

The chapel is in ruins, but still has 4 walls and and is in good enough a state to get some kind of feel for space and layout. And previous archaeological digs have found remnants that give an indication of how it would have looked, so there are pictures of that too. The children thought it was very cool to see the font in position in the chapel. More history about the property and the site can be found at their website here.

 

 

 

 

The grounds are vast and as such we didn’t cover much of them, there are many walks but we didn’t come prepared for off-roading with Caitlin (we had the standard town-friendly wheelchair, and no carrier). We did try, but after rolling through a lot of sheep poop, and flicking it everywhere as the wheels spun, we decided to call it quits and hope that we may be able to get back there on another day for a walk (perhaps with Bruce, so he can share the carrying duties hehehe).

 

 

 

Whilst we were there, they were running the “Make do and mend” trail, where the children got to hunt for different things whilst learning about how people used to make do and mend. They found it both interesting and fun and were excited to chose their prizes at the end. It was an additional cost of £2.50.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits.